DELCAMBRE — Tough. Efficient. Widely known for their productivity.
Those are accurate descriptions for hardy shrimpers, those men and women who make their living shrimping and live in this community near Vermilion Bay. Those same words, by the way, also apply to an artificial lure hand-crafted by a local outdoorsman and his wife.
Paul “Chopper” Viator and his wife, Angela Segura Viator, have been making Poppa Chop hair jigs that are putting Delcambre on the sport fishing map as far away as Mississippi, Alabama and beyond. Since the Viators, lifelong Delcambre residents, started making them four or five years ago, thousands of fish have bitten off more they can chew and wind up in an ice chest.
Poppa Chops can put a natural bait, such as a shiner, to shame, so many panfishermen swear. The hair jig underwater probably imitates any number of creatures, including tiny crawfish or grass shrimp, a delicacy among fish.
The artificial lure’s popularity has spurred demand, which means now you find the Viators trying to get ahead on painting the leadheads, tying the hair jigs and packaging the finished product before the Atchafalaya Basin falls to a fishable level this month or July. When the nation’s last great overflow swamp settles within its natural banks, fishing is expected to be unreal.
So they double team the Poppa Chops when Chopper, a diesel mechanic by trade and a former waterfowl hunting guide, is “in” for his seven days as he works seven-and-seven in Galveston as a material handler for Halliburton.
“While the Basin’s slow, we’re stocking up on our orders,” Angela said Thursday afternoon while she packaged Poppa Chops two to a plastic sleeve, then stapled it to a card bearing the words Poppa Chop.
“When it’s going to fall, they’re going to call for our jigs every two or three days,” she said about the two Acadiana sites that regularly sell Poppa Chops — Ivy’s Tackle Box in Morgan City and Gayle’s Texaco in Maurice. “When the Basin’s right, they’ll be calling ahead of time.”
“Yeah, there’s going to be some fish to be caught when the Basin drops,” Chopper said while tying a hair jig, noting he plans to be one of the anglers dropping a Poppa Chop on their chops in the Duck Lake and Checkerboard areas near Morgan City.
The proud parents and grandparents of three daughters and their children, the Viators split time this past week between finishing a “family” camp along Boston Bayou, which they are building with her brother Ricky Segura and his wife, Kathy, of New Iberia, and getting ahead on Poppa Chops.
Making Poppa Chops is a labor of love, grown out of what began as a past-time.
“Everybody has different hobbies, I’m sure. This is ours. It’s a hobby. It just took off,” Angela said.
Her husband nodded in agreement.
The story of the hair jig they make was told in a Lure Review column in the Louisiana Sportsman in December. After its publication, the couple got inquiries and Poppa Chop requests from sporting goods and fishing tackle stores in Pascagoula, Miss., and Alabama, among other places.
Poppa Chop believers include Bill McCarty of Morgan City, a St. Mary Parish School Board member who volunteers fishing reports for The Daily Iberian, and Donald Gaspard of Abbeville, whose 3.05-pound sac-a-lait ranks in the Top 10 of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association Fish Records.
McCarty has touted the locally made hair jig for several years.
“I’ve been using them for a couple of years. A buddy of mine put me on them. Those Poppa Chops work so much better — so much more lifelike in the water,” McCarty said in the Louisiana Sportsman.
He loves to fish with a blue/white model in the lower Spillway, he said.
“The jig that Chopper has is similar to Irwin’s jig,” Gaspard said, explaining in the magazine column that the late Irwin Bouley, who lived in Lafayette, made the extremely popular Stumpy Bayou Jig. “They (Viators) have the best jig on the market. I fished with all of them. You can’t beat Poppa Chop Jigs. They last a lot longer. The paint don’t come off. They put three coats of paint on them.”
Naturally, McCarty and Gaspard won’t get an argument from the Viators or their daughters Amy McGee of Big Woods, which is near Intracoastal City, Sara Simon of Delcambre, and Rebecca Baker of Big Point, Miss., a four-hour drive from here. The women, all Delcambre High graduates who grew up fishing and enjoying the outdoors, think it’s “pretty cool” their parents make coveted hair jigs, Chopper said.
Poppa Chops are made from colorfully dyed calf tail hair that the Viators order from outlets in Texas. Chopper uses a quality Eagle Claw hook and leadhead poured from a mold he made himself, although he won’t reveal the exact weight except to say it’s approximately 1/32-ounce and falls just right, he said, to tantalize fish.
The leadheads are painstakingly painted by Angela, with a special paint that isn’t an automotive paint, she said. She paints at least 300 at a time and has them ready for tying when he gets home from work.
They work at tables in a small room in the house. When he ties the hair jigs, which he does 25-30 per hour, he puts on the country music and goes to work, he said.
“It relaxed him to do this … just tying his lures,” she said.
A cut here, a tie there, wrap, wrap, snip, repeat, and quickly a small, bare gold hook with a tiny hand-painted leadhead is transformed into a popular artificial lure for sac-a-lait, bream, bass or anything that feeds on something underwater. The Poppa Chop hair jig-tying process is enhanced by an expensive waterproof glue and nifty “trick” he does with a wing formed early in the process that is folded over.
“It costs a little more, this glue, but when you’re catching fish, it’s worth it. That’s what makes the jigs so strong, where they don’t come apart,” he said.
“One guy from Morgan City called me. He said something happened with the jig he was using for the third day. The fish wore the body material (usually silver) out but the thread and hair were still there and he was catching fish,” he said, proudly.
There are 173 color combinations in his “catalog.” They are all requests by anglers over the years.
The favorites are No. 78 (blue/white-blue body), No. 58 (bluewhite-silver body); No. 136 (chartreuse-pearl body/orange head); No. 125 (yellow/yellow-black body); No. 136 (chartreuse-pearl body), and No. 32 (Mardi Gras, a popular mix of colors among sac-a-lait fishermen around here).
Chopper is ready to take out some of his favorite color combinations out fishing when the Atchafalaya River hits 12.0 feet at Butte La Rose. Armed with Poppa Chop, he won’t be alone.